Military men face to face

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TABA - Israeli and Palestinian generals yesterday agreed to form a special committee to discuss terms for releasing up to 12,500 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails, writes Sarah Helm.

The announcement came at the end of the second day of peace talks in Taba, aimed at implementing Palestinian self-rule, starting in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and in the West Bank town of Jericho. The Taba meeting has been notable for bringing together the military men from both sides of the conflict to discuss the nuts and bolts of peace-making.

The release of Palestinian prisoners, jailed by Israel often without charge or trial for alleged involvement in 'security' offences, is one of the most contentious issues in this early stage of the negotiations.

Israel has said it will not allow the release of Palestinians accused of killing Israelis. Israel has also refused to allow Palestinians from outside the occupied territories to take part in the negotiations if they have 'blood on their hands'.

Palestinians, however, say all prisoners should be freed under the terms of the accord, and Israel has no right to veto their choice of negotiators.

The prisoner committee is to be headed by Uzi Dayan, head of planning for the Israeli defence forces, and Nasser Youssef, of the Palestine Liberation Army. Asked how he felt about sitting down with a Palestinian military chief, General Dayan said: 'We have come here to make peace not just to talk. We came here to make friends. I hope we are on the way.'

General Youssef said there were 'many examples in the world of where people who have been enemies have tried to make peace'. The negotiators in Taba also agreed yesterday on an agenda for their talks which will resume next Wednesday, and are expected to continue for several weeks.